So, yesterday, through a field that looks an awful lot like this one, into a woods that looks an awful lot like...
You get the picture. Yesterday Takoda and I went on our very first trail ride together! Unless you count the brief one we took at Danny's the day I went to check him out way back in February.
So, the ladies at the barn have been itching to get me out there. Most of them use the arena as a poor weather alternative to what they really like to do which is hit the trails. I have been nervous about the whole prospect. I've never walked the trails to see what we were in for and while Koda did very well when I took him out at Danny's I certainly don't know him as far as properly assessing his reactions to things like water crossings, narrow paths, limbs, rocks, etc... On the other hand, this is why I bought a horse actually. I have spent several years going around in circles in an arena and I really just wanted a friend to ride through fields and on trails at this point in my life.
So, with promises it would be a short, simple ride, off we went!
Well, it wasn't short (probably an hour) and I would not qualify it as "simple" by any means but I was amazed at my horse. So amazed that I was fairly speechless on the subject until we were back at the barn even though all three of my companions were saying things like - you picked a helluva trail horse my dear! Or, I hope this is what you bought him for because he is A.TRAIL.HORSE.
First of all, there were several water crossings. And the last one was just shy of belly deep. I have never been in water that deep on a horse. It was an odd sensation and Takoda was a champ. You could tell he was slightly like - WTF? - but he kept plodding along without any snorting or thoughts of turning back. He did this with everything. Our creeks here are rock bottomed. Meaning there are rocks of every size and shape so the footing isn't always perfect. Plus we were third in line so sometimes after the first two horses the bottom wasn't visible. He would look at the water intently and was careful about stepping, but step he did and through we would go. Only a couple of times did he do something I would question, like he moved over to the steeper part of one creek entrance, because it was dry I think, to step off.
Second the woodsy part of the trail (lots of it is in the forest) was muddy in several places, lots of branches, narrow and winding. He was chill throughout and watched where he was stepping quite well. We saw a huge black snake and he didn't even flinch. We jumped a deer and he just walked on. Then he spooked at a log. LOL. BUT, he spooked in place and when I patted him and said, "you are OK" he went right back to work.
We returned to the barn pretty damn happy campers and when I cleaned him up and turned him out he was one tired beast. I think we have found what he is good at AND likes to do!
What a great horse weekend this was! Awesome rides, Takoda willing to try new things, my GF getting more acquainted with her horse, the barn is hustle bustle, lots of summertime magic going on...
Today was the first day I have taken Koda outside the shelter of the arena and round pen. He had been on trails in his prior life so I am not shaking in my boots nervous, just cautious. All these new experiences for him - new horses (still because several have left and new ones are now boarding), new sights, etc. We hung out in the arena with my GF and her horse for a bit and then I asked my other GF (also our instructor) to walk with us on the road, just down to the bridge (which is within view of the barn and after you cross it the road comes to a T) and back. I have never given a thought to bridges, especially bridges like this one. It isn't wooden it is paved and pretty low. A stream flows under it gently...
So when Tara explained that bridges are one of the freakiest things that horses must do, I was surprised. To me it is just part of the road. To him, she explained, the sides of the earth disappear, stuff looks different, there is no ground plus there is this weird water sound but (to him) no water under his feet. Plus it "sounds suspicious" - the change in beat from earth or pavement underfoot to the hollowness of a bridge. Wow. Interesting.
So, as we approached it a truck passed us from the front. He did quite well. I don't know if he has ever encountered traffic. I assume he must've because when I rode him before purchase part of it was on the road beside the farm. We got closer and his breath got more puffy. If you have ever heard a horse who is sort of nervous or suspicious they will sometimes "puff" their nostrils - like they are trying to smell for trouble. It can be quite noisy. LOL. Koda's was not incredibly noticeable but I could hear it and feel him tense up.
Just before the actual bridge he stopped dead, tilted his head from one side to the other like he was trying to figure out what the heck all this meant. We sat there for a few seconds and just talked casually. Tara said - don't push him, just let him know whatever he decides is fine...he doesn't have to cross it today, don't make it a fight. He took a few more steps and stopped dead again. More looking. Then, not suddenly, but more like a little "I really don't want to do this can we maybe go back?...." he shifted his weight and slightly turned his head to the left.
I said - OK, buddy we can go back. And let him turn around. We walked slowly back to the arena, stepped off the road onto the path that leads to the barn and walked through the driveway and to the hitching post.
Pretty damn good day. Earlier in the arena he had some moments of "but I don't wanna go that way" and mamma had to say "I know but you will go that way" - really that was all just his little bullheaded stuff he does. Then, when he truly WAS stressed mom gets to say - OK, buddy we'll take it slow. Does he know the difference? I think he does.
At any rate, we have tons of stuff to work on and learn and bridges are just a part of it. I am still amazed at the things that DON'T bother him more than the things that do. Today, while being a brat and trying to lick the last remaining bit of his neighbor's lunch out of their food bin while in the cross-ties, he managed to hit his head on a plastic muck rake hanging on the stall, knock it off the hanger and it nearly hit him in the head, clumped loudly on the floor in front of him and he barely blinked. LOL.
Squweeeeeeee!!!!! Summer is here!!!!!! Well, I mean, not officially....but close enough to get excited.
Long weekend with the pony. Life with horses is truly a journey with lots of peaks, valleys, little bumps in the road and long, lovely meadows full of wildflowers. We've been having some bumps and today was most definitely a meadow full of happy, dancing, daisies. LOL.
Koda has a new friend. Well, one of my girlfriends got a horse, so by default, Koda has a new friend. LOL. They are stalled beside each other and we hope someday they will be trail buddies. Right now they are working separately as my girlfriend gets used to her steed and he gets used to life at the barn.
We did a bunch of stuff today in the arena. Bending, weaving, trotting, perfecting our "whoa" and backing. He did great. Very responsive and even when he decided not to be it was fairly easy to bring him back into the mindset.
The barn was INSANE today. Two horses leaving, lots of people out, tons of activity but nice - everyone hung around for a long time after riding and enjoyed the sunshine.
A quick update on life. And life with Takoda. The two are not mutually exclusive but I have been SO busy lately (new job, major additional stress, busy season starting) that my only other outlet and significant responsibility has been my horse. Anytime I am not at work or working I am at the barn.
This pic was taken on Easter Sunday. No just risen zombies were found at the barn that day, but it was eerily quiet due to everyone else doing holiday stuff. LOL.
I was struck by how much Koda looks like Apache in this photo. He looks much older than he is. Worn and knowing. Believe me he is not! ;)
We continue to work through horsey stuff. I spoke to the person I got him from further and the whole picture came together quite nicely. It is amazing to me, the language of horse people. I realize that in being a first time horse buyer I asked ALL the right questions. I just did not "listen between the lines" the way someone like my girlfriend would, having been raised around horses and the horse world.
So, he had Koda for about six months (maybe a little more). They have about 30 head of horses/mules and basically he is a horse trader who gets horses and mules he thinks are sale worthy, gives them the basics and sells them. So the basics is what Takoda got and he caught the guy's eye because he is, in general, quiet and stable. Takoda didn't get much training from the first owner, apparently. He is quiet, yes. He (most of the time) is fairly calm, uses his brain and isn't flighty or scared easily. He is, however, a little fidgety (doesn't have a lot of patience when you are telling him to "just stand there") and since not much was expected of him consistently in the way of basic manners, he sometimes has none.
For instance, he doesn't understand why he shouldn't stand within two centimeters from you at all times. He stands that close to his friends so why not you? He doesn't get why it isn't acceptable to walk into you. If you want someone to move you walk into them, right? Feet? Bitch these are my feet and I need them so don't touch. The foot thing became absolutely clear when I was talking to horse trader and I said - I know he had shoes when you got him, do you know if he was worked with on the feet by the guy before you much? Trader didn't know, said probably not because when they are shod sometimes people just take that as "oh their feet are good" till the next time their shoes get changed. Interesting. But, if he was shod, obviously they used him for trails or something....you don't just put shoes on a horse to stick it in the field. He agreed. He said then - now, you know I got 30 head so I can't take the time to be individual with them all like the people I sell them to, you know that part of the bonding I leave for you all. Ah-ha! Answer - this horse has never had anyone mess with his feet in all of his seven years except when it was time to grab them up, rip current pair of shoes off, slap new pair on and pound nails into his hoof. How pleasant.
See what I mean about listening between the lines?
So, on we go. Working on all of this stuff from the starting point.
On the very positive side of all of this (and this is BIG), because he is a pretty quiet guy, even the bad experiences he has had don't seem to have made such a horrible impact that they can't be re-learned as good.
Even the scar on his mouth, (whatever happened was some time ago and no one seems to know exactly what caused the jagged, thin scaring). There is another scar on one leg. Both long and thin - a fence incident perhaps?
So, in being pretty quiet and not really having been "trained" much, he is a clean slate for the most part. He is kinda like a two or three year old that you are just starting to work with in many ways, only he is a little older so a little more calm and he HAS had a tiny bit of practical experience.
We have ridden twice. Just in the arena with some new friends and they have been really helpful to us in that they incorporate him into the end or beginning of their rides. We play "follow the leader" just at the walk, pretending to be on the trail, walking over ground poles and weaving in and out of cone courses. Even the fact that he only plow reins is becoming a blessing in disguise because it allows me to go completely back to the beginning as well. It is straight forward, easy to concentrate on and I will actually be able to (with some guidance) train him to neck rein and move off the leg.
And as my girlfriend points out - what we learn will be our own. What a bond we will have as we move forward! It won't be "I got this horse and he knew everything" it will be - I taught this horse and we belong to each other.
Yesterday, unknown to me until I arrived at the barn, was load the pigs in the truck for market day. I have said before that my barn is a working farm. So, I am not naïve to the fate of the adorable pigs that sun themselves on their "patio" below the main barn. I have no control over the fate of these farm animals. I wish I did, but I don't. The process of basically loading the pigs involves backing the truck up to their enclosure, installing a shoot up into the truck trailer and then basically making it the place they want to be. You put food in the trailer, not in their normal trough in the enclosure and you take the added inconvenience of making their enclosed space very small so it is more comfortable to go into the truck. And why right now did "just look at the flowers Lizzie, look at the flowers" pop into my head? LOL.
So, by the time I get to the barn, the pigs are PISSED. They haven't yet decided to go into the truck. Instead they are shoving each other around in the tiny space, pushing on the railing and one had even grabbed it in his mouth and was trying to pull it (or something). They were frustrated, noisy, probably scared and as someone who can feel the energy of places I can distinctly say that there was bad ju-ju in the whole barn.
The horses were edgy because the pigs (and all the noise they were making) were only like 100 feet away. After awhile the noise settled down and I (insanely) decided to take Koda outside for some fresh air. LOL. We did a few things just in the parking lot. He was OK until the pigs started up again, this time from INSIDE the trailer.
You know horses are afraid of stuff that moves. And stuff that makes noise. Well apparently inanimate objects that appear to be moving AND making noise all on their own are the undoing of fragile equine minds. So, I finally get my prancing pony back to the barn and manage to calm him down enough to say - now, we are going to walk through this door together... Meaning - please DO NOT run over me because it will hurt. And he actually DID (surprisingly) slowly step over the threshold with me. Then he let out an enormous blow and sigh as if to say - Thank the Gods we are safe mom!
On a side note - I have a feeling that boarding at a working farm is going to make me more vegan. LOL. I don't have the stomach for killing. It isn't a universal thing - I am like Lizzie's poor little sister, only with animals. Hell, I don't even have the stomach for the process of getting the animals to the place where the killing will be done! All night last night I thought about those poor pigs. I had bad dreams. People were missing body parts. There was angst and loud noises. LOL. I am down to eating venison because it is the only thing I am damn sure went down like a rock by Sam's expert hand and a millisecond before it was munching greenbriers. I just was not made for the process of meat from the point of this little piggy went to market...to oh look he ended up on my plate!
Well, I must say that it has been an interesting couple of weeks in my horse world. Thankfully, Takoda has been the least of the drama. His feet continue to come along. It is a really slow process but I have been lifting them every day and am even able to partially clean the front ones without a fuss now. But it is quite different to lift a foot for 10 seconds and to have one held up for trimming so we have a really long way to go.
I met a really nice farrier last week who happened to be at the barn working on another horse. Several folks there use him. He has taken a friend of mine's mare from shoes to barefoot and she had some issues when she was purchased so nice and slowly that came along. He met Takoda, picked up his feet and we talked for a good long while. To me, he seems to know a great deal about horses (of course) and more to the point talked a lot about natural hoof care and the desire to have horses stay barefoot (which is my desire too). So, Koda has an appointment on Friday and I am afraid he is going to act like a 1200 pound brat. But, we need to meet challenges and get through them together.
Speaking of - I was not aware that my barn was the home of "catty women farrier wars" until this evening. I am a complete moron sometimes. Well, no I take that back. I AM A GUY most times. And yes, I am overgeneralizing but just give me a minute. There is another farrier also heavily used at my barn. I actually know of him and know he too is a great farrier because the barn I used to ride at uses him. The woman who sets up the appointments with him at my current barn mentioned him over a month ago and I said I was interested. Since then I have not seen her. An opportunity came along, I spoke to someone I felt was a good match and I made an appointment. And wouldn't you know it tonight she informed me that her farrier is coming on Sunday and she could add me to the list.
I said - oh, thanks for thinking of me but I already made an appointment with so and so. She snorted and said - well, good luck with that... LOL. I was taken a bit aback. So, then ANOTHER lady drags me outside and tells me this whole saga of personalities and ex-friendships and why this person doesn't like this farrier and that person doesn't like that one and I am standing in the snow thinking for Hades-sake I just want my horse's feet trimmed and want him to NOT try and kick the barn down while someone is doing so and I'm doing the best I can people PLEASE leave me out of the drama!!!!!!
You said there would be a list and there never was one. In the meantime, my horse's hooves grew, he needs trimmed, he NEEDS to meet a farrier and realize that his feet WILL get trimmed, I was presented with an opportunity and I took it. If it does not work out I could still need a farrier but I suppose I will have to arrange that myself now that I have inadvertently pissed off the person who does the scheduling.
And by the way, WHY do people not do their own scheduling? Is this like a "thing" in the horse barn world? Like, is the farrier sort of like a band that gets booked for a party? Like, the band talks to the booking agent?
So, tonight I am reminded of my friend Stephanie saying - this is why I keep my horses at home. LOL LOL....
Takoda has been home for just shy of a month now. The weather has not been great but we have had some warm days here and there and everyone at my barn is itching to get back outside, sneaking rides in on warm afternoons, round penning, grooming outdoors...
We have been at least able to mostly test what Koda knows and doesn't know and the verdict is this:
Takoda has been a field horse for the whole of his young life. Field horses are great in a sense because they have been able to live like horses live naturally (or as close as possible). They have 24/7 turn-out, eat grass and hay, are not blanketed and many times are left barefoot. When they wanted to ride him they went and fetched him, saddled him up, rode and then put him back in the field.
Sometimes what field horses don't have is a sense of ground manners or any idea about yielding to pressure, tools or touch other than when someone wants them somewhere they put them there by whatever means available, including dragging, pushing, shoving or a nice little smack on the rump (this assessment was from my trainer/instructor girlfriend Tara). This is what I refer to as "old man with a horse" syndrome. LOL. To lots of folks, horses are tools for the most part. These people aren't "mean" and they don't do dumb shit like tying horses down or whipping them or other things that used to commonly be done to horses to "break" them. But they also don't believe in a lot of refining in terms of communication and safety in my opinion. These horses don't end up as spoiled brats, but they don't exactly end up as companions either. They are sort of stuck in the middle, never having the chance to form that deep relationship so many of us want with our horses.
So, it appears that I have a horse who is much more "green" than I intended. But, his mind seems much more solid than any horse I have ridden since Apache and that was number 1 in my mission requirements.
The thing is, as Tara points out, green requires lots of work BUT it is as close to a "clean slate" as having watched a foal drop and being with it from day one...
So it appears we are in for an exciting spring and summer! We have been starting from scratch on the ground. Working on basic things like yielding to pressure, moving the hind and front over, backing, the whole "my space, your space" concept and of course those pesky feet. He is getting much better with the front ones. Tara seems to think that he tries to get the back ones up as quickly as possible (like they have been grabbed up gruffly) but then he has no idea where you want them so he starts flailing the foot, then gets frustrated and tries to get it away, then was probably smacked for that so he is bracing for it... So, it can turn into a tug of war with a boomerang attached to a hoof - NOT GOOD. We are working on gently lifting, not too high, supporting for a few seconds, lowering gently and praising the crap out if him. Also no physical "correction" like slapping but change in voice from soft to firm if he starts getting fidgety and again, rewarding for the slightest "give" from him.
It is a looonnngggg process....
He is a loving horse and responds to praise though. You can see his eyes soften when he "gets" something and you make a big deal of it. In the round pen you can visibly see his entire body soften when he knows he has pleased you. He WANTS this. He just isn't sure all the time what you want and then he gets worried and unfocused and that leads to what we would define as stubbornness and then the game is on. So, again, I feel like I am back to the mindset that it is my responsibility to communicate correctly and in a focused manner with my horse - this was a strategy that I used when leasing the mare. I am the responsible one here, not Takoda. He is a reflection of what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong. That is the basis for the building of a relationship.
Horses are so varied and interesting in their talents, knowledge, lack thereof and little quirky ways. I have realized several things now that Takoda has been home for almost three weeks.
First, he seems to be a fairly smart guy because he catches on pretty quickly to routine and has adapted to the herd well. He now has a few friends, not just Justice, although it looks like Justice is still his closest pal. There is another grey that has started to interact with him and an old guy in the herd (22) has also taken a liking to Koda.
He isn't easily rattled, which was one of my main "wants" when looking for a horse. He seems to be pretty level headed for being only 6 or 7. For instance, yesterday, while being a goofball and trying to scratch his own neck on the hitching post he actually got the rope he was tied to wrapped around the top of the post, leaving very little slack between his halter and the post itself. He started to back up and the rope went tight almost immediately. Many horses would have at least mildly panicked at the sudden change in amount of freedom to move around but he simply stepped back toward the post and looked at me - hey, lady I'm sorta stuck here....
Other little things that you would never think about until faced with them don't seem to phase him either. The "squeeze" game is one of the seven games lots of horses have a hard time with and consists of going through small spaces. Horses don't like to feel confined so they might balk at this. Koda doesn't seem to mind walking right through the man door at the barn and out into the parking lot. He doesn't even freak when coming back into the barn where the concrete slopes just slighting and his hooves slide just a tiny bit on that first step.
On the other hand, and with horses there always seems to be an "other hand", there are odd things that need worked on that I never even thought would due to his good behavior under saddle when I met him. The main perplexing one is his feet. He absolutely hates holding his feet up. As a matter of a fact he balks at lifting them period. And he will attempt to snatch them away immediately once you get them raised. This is odd to me since I know he has been shod and I even helped clean his feet when I rode him. Thinking back to that day, he wasn't uber willing but he didn't present the struggle that he has been presenting since coming home. So, we are working on this and I understand that work is what it takes. Lots of consistent, hard work but just the same it is perplexing.
He is also fidgety when tied. Now, this I did know because the guy I bought him from talked about it. He didn't seem to think it was an issue. I do. LOL. He isn't normally moving around to the point of complete unrest, but the ability to remain tied quietly is important in a horse. The more I work with him the more I think that he has never been cross-tied, only tied to a hitching post. He was hitched when we tacked him up at the barn where I rode him and the first time in cross-ties he seemed confused. So, we have been doing those in small intervals and rewarding for standing still.
Then there are the usual young, untrained horse space issues. He has no sense of a personal bubble on the part of his human companion. Again, something we must overcome. Related to that, I am pretty darn sure he never knew of a carrot or apple prior to coming home. He was a field horse in a herd and has no sense of proper manners as opposed to "mugging" for treats.
So, as my girlfriend said, he may be 6 or 7 but in his mind he might as well be 2 or 3 and there is a lot of work ahead. All in all he is a young horse with what seems to be a good solid mind. He just needs taught.
I'm still waking up some mornings and forgetting that I have a horse. I have a horse.... It sinks into my brain slowly on those mornings like I've dreamed it all and I'm trying to clear the fog as to what is real and what was just the dream. I guess this happens often when people have finally made a lifetime goal a reality. Like when you have a dream to own a home for instance and finally wake up there each morning, letting the reality of where you are sink in good and fill every part of you.
It is exciting, challenging. It can be quite unnerving and even stressful. You were always aware of the enormous responsibility. You just were not living it until that moment that you turned the key to the front door (or signed your life away at the closing LOL), took the lead rope from the hauler, had the baby placed in your arms. The weight of it is crushing but also uplifting. It is an odd experience.
I myself have spent half a lifetime ducking responsibility in any traditional sense. LOL. I've always concentrated on things that I felt were solid and that once achieved could never be taken away, or fade, or go badly. My education. My career. And I realize that careers can go south so maybe a better word would just be simply my work. I have always maintained a mindset that my work ethic defined me. I have never had any doubt that wherever I am employed, people will recognize that I have it and that I am capable of working circles around others. I've had many jobs and career paths in my life and whether I was selling dog food, settling insurance claims or managing people there has never been a question but rather the assumption that oh yeah, work is what she does...
You cannot take away someone's education or deeply held work ethic. And therefore those things are solid and dependable to me. Other traditional responsibilities like marriage, kids, owning homes (which I have done in my life and can attest to the enormity of both positive and negative factors)....not so solid in my mind.
So, I realize now that part of the reason I leased horses for so long was, in part, a way to manage my responsibility in my mind for something that was not solid and could at any moment be taken away. Horses are expensive, injury, illness and even untimely death can occur, accidents, etc. the list goes on and on. I placed horses in the "not solid" category for many years and although several of my reasons for not having my own horse were valid, deep down it all goes back to the fear post that I wrote about last month.
Refusal of responsibility and fear go hand in hand. I realize only now how they are all wrapped up together in our minds and our choices. Somehow we have to first separate them and then deal with them both in order to experience our own lives fully.
By the time my horse arrived I had sort of gravitated toward a few names. I figured that his true name would come to me once I spent some time with him and that he probably had an opinion on what that name should be. Just remembering him from our initial meeting, some of the more mystical names did not seem to fit him.
I felt he had an "earthiness" about him, like he was tied to the land in some way. Like he was rough cut lumber almost. Good and solid yet not polished around the edges.
My top choices became Takoda, Crichton, Keller, Briscoe and Sketch. All have meanings except Sketch, which was just fun and I thought sounded cool.
When he arrived I still could not put my finger on a name so I just told everyone he didn't have one yet. LOL. One way to confuse a bunch of horse women is to tell them your horse has no name. They all go into "name the baby" mode so our first night was spent with loads of suggestions but very few that fit. At various times I referred to him by each of the names just to see how it rolled off my tongue and whether he responded to one more than the other. That night he was mostly responding to all the treats he was getting though so I still could not wrap my head around which name it should be.
The next day it was sunny and a bit warm and I was able to walk him around outside a bit. I hitched him a post and groomed him and the sun brightened up his mane and you could fully see that he isn't only grey, but has a bit of blonde mixed in, almost a palomino color. It isn't solid anywhere, just the some of his hairs are varying shades of grey and some blonde. He has it mixed in his tail and a little in his mane as well.
"You look like a wild little mustang" I said to him. And it isn't only the coloring but the fact that right now he is filthy, making him even more reminiscent of a member of a little roaming bachelor band out west somewhere.
Takoda... It clicked in my head. Yes, his name was Takoda. And from that moment on it seemed like the only name that fit.
In Loving Memory
...of the first horse to hold my heart